Since 2020 we have run several creative arts projects with participants from Enfield Carers Centre, both online and in-venue. Here Carla Brain, Young Carers Project Manager in Enfield, talks about her work with young carers and our blossoming partnership.

Watch the video below or read the full interview.

Who are you and what do you do?

I manage the young carers project at Enfield Carers Centre. We support children aged between five and 18 who have some form of caring role. We go on lots of trips. We also have mentoring programmes and support meetings to help support them.

Carla Brain from Enfield Carers Centre
Carla Brain from Enfield Carers Centre

It’s hard getting carers to identify themselves. It’s been estimated that one in five children and young people are young carers. If you’ve been a carer for most of your life, you think that’s probably what everyone does and you don’t realise. It’s difficult to know at what point you’ve stopped being someone’s son or daughter or brother or sister, and you’ve started caring for them.

I used to care for a family member and I didn’t realise I was a carer. I was a carer as an adult rather than a young carer. I supported my great-aunt and I’ve always been really close to her. She lived in the next road to me while I was growing up, and I used to see her on a daily basis. She used to teach me how to sew.

Then I was at university and I came back home and she’d had a stroke and needed a bit of extra support. I kind of lived with her for a bit, and it was meant to be a temporary thing. And then suddenly, she was getting worried if I left her. So then I would be staying with her all the time and I just … you don’t realise how it slips into that.

I was so shocked that there were young carers. Trying to balance it with my PhD was difficult enough, but I didn’t have to go somewhere 9am ‘til 3.30pm every day. I wasn’t going to be getting in trouble with the educational and local authority if I didn’t attend school because I needed to attend meetings or appointments with her.

“What I love about Create is that you organise everything. It’s all meticulously planned.”

Carla Brain, Enfield Carers Centre

How did you hear about Create?

At the Carers Trust Conference in 2020 Nicky [Goulder, Create CEO] was speaking about opportunities for young carers and [the charity’s] creative activities. I emailed her the second she finished her presentation and said we’d definitely be interested. We set up a meeting and, as it happened, [Create] had a place available on an online activity just a few weeks later. We brought our young carers to that and we’ve attended quite a few Create activities since.

Initially they were online due to the pandemic and then we had some in person. We’ve actually decided with our activities that we like a combination of online and in-person because different young carers find that easier. For some of them, they can’t really leave the person they care for, or it’s too difficult for them to get there, so they prefer online activities. Others prefer face to face because they’d like to have a break from their caring role. Some come to both.

Participants from Enfield Carers Centre on a photography project
Participants from Enfield Carers Centre on a photography project

The Create staff are so dedicated. For our music workshop in April, we thought about contingencies in case anyone had COVID in advance, but unfortunately the artists and the Create staff all had it. Some of the Create staff were really unwell, but they were so desperate to organise the workshop that they found us another artist and other Create staff members to come and attend. So we still managed to have the workshop, which was absolutely fantastic.

We’ve got music, photography, jewellery making and drama all booked in and coming up.

What do you think about these projects? How do you feel about them?

Create workshops are absolutely fantastic. Everything gets planned out initially. You have a planning meeting and you can discuss everything. It saves so much time. We’re quite a small organisation and we spend a lot of our time doing one-to-one support with our young carers. And it’s so fantastic to be able to have these activities over the school holidays and sometimes in the evenings after school.

We don’t have a lot of time to plan those activities. We need to look at any medical conditions, dietary requirements, have whole registers, book places, organise transport, everything. And it takes so much time to do a simple trip. What I love about Create is that you organise everything. It’s all meticulously planned. We arrange for the children to get to the project, but once we’re there, a lot of the time our staff participate in the activities and we all have a fantastic time doing it.

“I love seeing the beaming smile on their faces when they go up to receive their certificate or they get a chance to show their family what they’ve been doing. They’re just so proud of themselves.”

Carla Brain, Enfield Carers Centre

It means so much to these young carers because they don’t get a lot of these opportunities. A lot of them are unable to attend after-school clubs, or clubs outside school, because of their caring role. So a lot of them have never tried some of these activities before, like music or pottery. And they love it.

Another thing I think is so fantastic with Create is the sharing ceremony: on the last day of the workshop, you have a sharing ceremony, so you can invite parents to attend. They share the work they’ve done and they get certificates. That means so much to our young carers, because a lot of them don’t receive certificates at school because their attendance or punctuality might not be great.

A participant from Enfield Carers Centre on a photography project
A participant on a photography project with Enfield Carers Centre

[I love seeing] the beaming smile on their faces when they go up to receive their certificate or they get a chance to show their family what they’ve been doing. They’re just so proud of themselves. So many of our young carers are really lacking confidence and it’s just incredible what they get out of Create workshops. They say that they’ve made new friends, they feel less alone, lots of different things like that. These workshops really do help.

One of our young carers looks after someone at home who’s quite ill and vulnerable to COVID. She’s been quite isolated. It’s been difficult for her to attend any activity. It was difficult for her to attend school. When a lot of children went back to school, she wasn’t able to, because it would just be so problematic if she brought the virus home. But when we had all these activities online, she loves coming to these Create ones because she can interact with other children. She’s making friends, she’s so creative. It makes such a difference because it’s a break from her caring role. It’s a chance to be creative and she can show the person she cares for what she’s created, which is just brilliant.

What does being creative mean to you?

It always lifts my mood. I think creative activities do that for people. Different things got different people through the pandemic. For instance, before the pandemic, my mum had been insisting to me for years that she cannot draw and that she’s terrible at art. Now she’s taken up watercolour painting. And they’re just incredible. Some people learnt a language or learned to play an instrument or people might have taken up watercolour painting for instance, or cookery. I think those things can get you through tough times.

Can you tell me what it’s like working with the Create team specifically?

All of the Create staff are absolutely fantastic. Very dedicated, very thorough. They’re all incredible.

We’ve worked with a number of different artists and they’ve all been absolutely brilliant. When they explain what they’re doing, they explain it in layman’s terms. You understand what they’re saying and you can ask them questions. They’re always happy to be really flexible. With young carers, sometimes someone might have an appointment or they might need to go to the hospital or something happens that delays them. But they’re always happy to take that into consideration.

Create staff are in contact with you the whole way through. They arrange the support meetings and talk you through everything. They always turn up when they say they will. They’re just so dedicated. Nicky, the CEO, is so passionate. Hearing her speak is why we got involved with Create in the first place.

What would you say to a carer service that was considering working with Create?

Definitely do it. There’s absolutely nothing to lose. You can speak to the staff about any questions you’ve got, any concerns you have. They are super flexible with anything that you need to speak to them about. So if it’s about punctuality, if it’s to do with numbers of attendees, if it’s about getting forms in … any of the concerns you might have, you can speak to them. They’re so flexible with it. And your young carers will get so much out of it. As will your staff: your staff will love it.

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